MYSTIC ISLES OF THE SOUTH SEAS
Departure from San Francisco—Nature man left behind—Fellow-passengers on the Noa-Noa—Tragedy of the Chinese pundit—Strange stories of the South Seas—The Tahitian Hula.
The warning gong had sent all but crew and passengers ashore, though our ship did not leave the dock. Her great bulk still lay along the piling, though the gangway was withdrawn. The small groups on the pier waited tensely for the last words with those departing. These passengers were inwardly bored with the prolonged farewells, and wanted to be free to observe their fellow-voyagers and the movement of the ship. They conversed in shouts with those ashore, but most of the meanings were lost in the noise of the shuffling of baggage and freight, the whistling of ferries, and the usual turmoil of the San Francisco waterfront. I was glad that none had come to see me off, for I was curious about my unknown companions upon the long traverse to the South Seas, and I had wilfully put behind me all that America and Europe held to adventure in the vasts of ocean below the equator.
But the whistle I awaited to sound our leaving was silent. Officers of the ship rushed about as if bent on relieving her of some pressing danger, and I caught fragments of orders and replies which indicated that until a search was completed she could not stir on her journey. Then I heard cries of anger and protest, and caught a glimpse of a man whose appearance provoked confusing emotions of astonishment, admiration, and laughter. He was dressed in a Roman toga of rough monk’s-cloth, and had on sandals. He was being hustled bodily over the restored gangway, and was resisting valiantly the second officer, purser, and steward, who were hardly able to move him, so powerfully was he made. One of his sandals suddenly fell into the bay. He had seized hold of the rail of the gangway, and the leather sandal dropped into the water with a slight splash. His grasp of the rail being broken, he was gradually being pushed, limping, to the dock. His one bare foot and his half-exposed and shapely body caused a gale of laughter from the docks and the wharf.
The gangway was quickly withdrawn, and our ship began to move from the shore. The ejected one stood watching us with sorrow shadowing his large eyes. He was of middle size; with the form of a David of Michelangelo, though lithe, and he wore no hat, but had a long, brown beard, which, with his brown hair, parted in the middle and falling over his shoulders, and his archaic garb, gave me a singular shock. It was as if a boyhood vision, or something seen in a painting, was made real. His eyes were the deepest blue, limpid and appealing, and I felt like shouting out that if it was a matter of money, I would aid the man in the toga.
“Christ!” yelled the frantic dock superintendent. “Get that line cast off and let her go! Are you ceemented to that hooker?”